iLetter History

How did it come about?

In the years leading up to my retirement, I was getting quite a lot of experience with PHP and JavaScript (I was working on the company's assets database). This development was done on a Mac Pro. However, for e-mail I preferred to use Eudora on a Windows-XP laptop.

Since development of Eudora had stopped, I started looking around for a replacement. I wanted something that explicitly promised to replicate Eudora's features. Two candidates presented themselves:

So, more to keep myself technically active than much else, I started wondering about writing an e-mail client myself. In particular, I wondered whether it was feasible to use Safari and JavaScript to present an e-mail client interface to the user, and AJAX to converse behind the scenes with PHP scripts that would use SQLite to store data and handle the communication aspects. OS X comes with all these and apache too, so I had all the components that I needed, available not only free, but without requiring extra software to be installed.

Development started in early 2009, and by March 2010, somewhat to my surprise, I had a working application, which I've been using for my own e-mail ever since. I kept expecting some insurmountable obstacle to arise that would have rendered the enterprise interesting, but ultimately futile. This hasn't happened so far.

iLetter was originally written for Mac OS X. I didn't have access to other platforms or enough knowledge about them to permit development there. It works on Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks. I know I've made some changes recently that would preclude it working under Leopard. I'm tending to use more HTML5 features these days, so probably Safari 5.1.7 or later is needed.

Recently I've installed a Windows7 VM on my Mac, using VirtualBox. After some effort I've been able to make the application run satisfactorily under Windows7 and Linux Mint. However, there are three components used by iLetter that are not provided with Windows7 or Linux Mint. These are the Chrome browser, PHP, and apache. These must be installed before iLetter will work under these OSes. In an appendix to the iLetter User Guide I have given links to sites from which one may download these components; it is not particularly difficult.

Version 1.12.2 was the final release of version 1 and is no longer available. Future development will only be for version 2.

Version 2

While creating iLetter v1 was technically interesting, it was always going to be unsatisfactory in a number of ways. Not the least of these is the non-native look to some aspects of the application, such as the menu bar, and that under macOS the Dock icon could be used to start Letter but not switch to it. Then, as time passed, changes started to creep in as to how the web browser worked, or which version of apache came with macOS as standard, and I was having to take those into account. Later versions of Safari, for example, no longer appear to permit the iLetter window to be closed by the application itself.

I then started to consider whether I could convert iLetter into a normal application, which would avoid having these changes occur. I found that the Xojo Integrated Development Environment (IDE) provided a way of doing this which could in principle work for versions for macOS, Windows, and Linux. iLetter now runs under all these, and also on the Raspberry Pi.

The Xojo IDE is not free, and neither are Windows Licences. There is also a cost involved with code-signing and notarising for macOS. Not just that associated with being a registered Apple Developer, but for purchasing a software tool called AppWrapper, which handles all the complexity of Apple's scheme for making apps safe to use. At this moment I feel no urge to do the same for Windows: I'm told it's harder too.

So here we are after a couple more years, with a release version of iLetter v2. I hope to get useful feedback from users.

© 2021 Tim Streater Back to iLetter main page Last modified: 26th October 2021